Does “Southern” Give Southern Baptists a Bad Image?

The above wordle was created in 2009 by Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. The wordle is composed of the 140 character replies to Rainer’s twitter question – “What do you think when you hear ‘Southern Baptist’?”

Thom Rainer’s son, Sam, categorized the unscientific twitter results stating, “About 60% of the respondents gave a negative association. Another 30% were positive, and 10% were neutral or unclear.”1 Some thoughts were shared on this site too.2

Fast forward to today where SBC President Bryant Wright has assigned a task force to investigate changing the the name of the Southern Baptist Convention. It has been argued on this blog that Bryant Wright should and will succeed in changing the name.3

Would a name change to the SBC really change the perception of the SBC? (I don’t mean an overnight change.) Is it the term “Southern Baptist” that brings about negative responses or could the term “Southern” be the real culprit? The focus of the current inquiry over a name change does seem to lie with the descriptor “Southern”. Granted, “Southern” and “Baptist” cannot really be separated when it comes to the SBC brand. However, first steps may be better than no steps.

This author has recently shown that 80 years had lapsed between the time when one early SBC leader chastised white Baptists on their treatment of black people until the 1995 resolution on racial reconciliation was affirmed.4

One might argue that the racial resolution has not helped race relations as much as intended though one might be hard pressed to deny it was necessary. Would it have been any different today had the resolution in question been affirmed 80 years prior? If “Southern” is removed from the SBC today will it make a difference tomorrow or in 80 years? I digress.

The question has hand is: Does “Southern” give Southern Baptists a bad image?


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tagged as , , , in Baptist,Culture,Southern Baptist,theology

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bryan Morgette September 21, 2011 at 12:39 pm

for what it’s worth . . . I’ve heard from unbelievers that the word “Baptist” creates quite a bit of animosity in and of itself. At times, more animosity than I’ve seen from the word “Southern”.

2 Doug Hibbard September 21, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I’m with Bryan: much of that association is with either Baptist or even “church” these days.

And we need to not insult the intelligence of people: AirTran was Valujet, and I doubt many people forgot that. People that have been encountering “Southern Baptist” and disliking us or thinking we’re all about legalism aren’t going to change their opinion because we change to the “Not-Southern Baptist Convention” (for lack of a new name to fill in). You can change the can, but it’s what’s inside that counts. Or,in this case, what’s perceived to be inside. So, let’s get over it, change the can if it’s too bad, but until we do better pointing people to Christ and not at our own tendencies, the name won’t help much.

3 Thomas Twitchell September 21, 2011 at 1:38 pm

When I hear the word Southern I think, sour mash. When I hear Southern Baptist I think, “where’s the bottle hidden.” When I hear Southern Baptist Convention, I think, “Juicy Fruit.”

4 Randy September 21, 2011 at 2:39 pm

I’m not presently as convinced as some that this will help in the short or the long haul. I think the issue is more about what we’re doing and what we stand for (as the wordle above shows). Of course, I’m in FL, which is one of the states with many, many Southern Baptist Churches. Still, I am not sure I would say this is at all necessary, but I have no problem really either way.

5 Big Jim Salles September 21, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Is the name our problem or are ‘we’ our problem? If the name is not a problem, why mess with changing it. BUT, IF WE ARE THE PROBLEM, perhaps we should change us!

6 Carl Holland September 22, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Bryan, I would definitely agree with your statement, and Doug, your expansion to include “church” I believe is even more accurate. Thomas… LOL… with forehead planted in palm shaking head side to side… “Southern” makes me think country, politeness, manners, RC Cola, Moonpies, and sweet tea. Randy, I agree, I don’t think it will help much. BTW, I’m in SE Georgia at the state line just north of Jacksonville. Big Jim, you hit the nail right on the head! If we, as a denomination, would quit beating people upside the head with the bible and start loving them like Jesus, it would make a huge difference.

7 Cathy M. September 23, 2011 at 12:18 pm

The answer is seen in the largest wordle; not because we are in fact legalistic, but precisely because we are NOT. To the world, “legalism” must be defined as anyone or anything that proclaims a biblical standard. It’s not the name, it’s the message that the world hates. Enough with the “beating people upside the head” claim too. If it happens, it is most definitely an exception, not a rule in Southern Baptist life.

We are who we are, whether we are called Southern Baptist, or not. Changing our name because (cue whiny voice) “people don’t wike us” is reactionary. It’s like a paunchy middle-aged man wearing an Ed Hardy t-shirt trying to feel young and hip.

8 baptistthinker September 23, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Legalistic? Not usually, but sometimes. Changing our name is a good idea, for several reasons. Allow me to turn the tables though, what is a good reason for keeping our name? Southern Baptist wasn’t a good idea when the Convention was founded.

Full disclosure: I’m a Yankee transplant living in the Bible Belt. While I love the SBC, I do think our name change is both inevitable, and urgent.

9 Howell Scott September 23, 2011 at 11:51 pm


I don’t think that Dr. Wright will succeed in changing the name, unless by succeed you mean splitting the Convention wide open and causing even more division than the GCR, but I digress. Two things in your post caught my attention. First, you mention “first steps may be better than no steps” when it comes to name change. By first steps, it appears you mean taking “Southern” out of the name. As you rightly observe, it’s hard to separate “Southern” and “Baptist.” I don’t want to assume what your subsequent steps might be, so I’ll just ask if you think removing “Baptist” from the name of the Convention would be a good second step? As you might have guessed, I am strongly opposed to a name change and will continue to be quite vocal about it between now and New Orleans. I personally believe that the “unofficial” Task Force will “go all in” and recommend a new name that removes both “Southern” and “Baptist” at the same time. I hope I am wrong, but history is often a good predictor future actions.

Second, you bring up the issue of race in the context of name change. Do you think it would be a positive step in race relations if “Southern” is removed from the name of the Convention? You are not the first to mention race in regards to the name change “study.” Do you believe that the racial component will be part of the reasoning for a name change should (when) the Task Force issues its final report? Thanks and God bless,


10 Mark September 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Bryan, interesting that “Baptist” may be the real culprit as far a negative public perception. I’ll have to think about that.

Doug, I agree that change, where necessary, must take place with the people and not the name. Though a name change could be indicative of a change in the people.

Thomas, so you think hypocrisy, huh? 🙂

Randy, I’m not wholly convinced that it’s necessary either. I live in Georgia which also has many SBC churches. I have wondered though if there is an unnecessary hold on the name by some.

Big Jim Salles, I believe you are correct that any problems the SBC has is not due to its name. Sometimes, however, a name change may be indicative of the people and their attitudes changing. It could be the showing of a new start for the future. (I’m not saying it has to be.)

Carl, you summarized it perfectly, “If we, as a denomination, would quit beating people upside the head with the bible and start loving them like Jesus, it would make a huge difference.”

Cathy, I will have to disagree with you about legalism. Have you seen any of the alcohol discussion from within the SBC camp? I’ve heard from several non-SBC folks and legalism is at the top of their list when describing the SBC. I’m not saying they are always correct, but I’m just sayin’.

Baptistthinker, I like your question, “What is a good reason for keeping our name?”

11 Mark September 24, 2011 at 5:07 pm


I’m not sure Wright will succeed either. I’m not wholly convinced that changing the SBC name is the best thing. Nor am I convinced it’s the worst either. I certainly hope the convention would not spilt over a name change. If it did then it may show us a place of idolatry that needed to be cleansed.

In my mind it would be the “Southern” part of the name that would be most likely to go. I did not mean to imply that “Baptist” should also be considered for removal. In context I was saying that although “Southern” and “Baptist” can’t really be separated today concerning our identity that a first step in separating them may be better than doing nothing when it comes to re-branding. I would have less problems with “Southern” being removed than with “Baptist” since “Baptist” is what truly defines our theology regardless of whether we’re in Ohio or Georgia.

I did not bring up race relations as a reason to change the name. I brought up race relations as an example of waiting too long to do something between realizing there was a problem and attempting a solution. Now, I don’t think the name is such a problem as the unChristian attitudes toward slavery that existed in the past. I’m not sure if a name change would improve race relations or not. It is possible that it could, but it may not do much on a larger scale, especially, not at first. As other commenters have stated, it is more the people than the name where problems lie. If race relations are a big problem then changing the name will not fix them in any sense. However, a name change could be indicative of internal change and a new direction so to speak.

12 Howell Scott September 24, 2011 at 5:16 pm


Thanks for your kind response. While no name should be considered sacrosanct, if further division comes at this point in our history, do you believe that part of the blame for division is not necessarily idolatry, but rather the perception (and perhaps reality, which is debatable) that the name change process came about as an “end-run” around the messengers of the Convention? In other words, even though name change is always going to be a contentious issue, could those in power (namely Bryant Wright and other top leaders) gone about this in a way that would have minimized division instead of the way that they did go about it, which has only increased division exponentially? And, this so close to the GCR (which is still not popular in many quarters), when those wounds are not fully healed. Thanks and God bless,


13 Big Jim September 24, 2011 at 7:18 pm

The editorial for my next newsletter will begin with this question: Why do some men of position feel that they must manipulate histroy in order to create their legacy?
Tx, Va and Mo are all sifting through the turmoil of splits that have not yet healed. The SBC is still in the throughs of the GCR, nursing wounds that will take much time to heal. Why propose the idea of a name change at this time in the life of our convention? We can’t even decide what NAMB needs to be or should be doing. The IMB is still trying to sort out its direction. I suppose during times of chaos and confusion is the best for such a radical event…while the natives are off guard!

14 Mark September 26, 2011 at 3:55 pm


I believe the process which Wright went about investigating a name change is a different topic than whether or not the name should be changed. I certainly understand why now may not seem like the best time for many given the position that that the GCR has some how added unrest to the SBC at large. Maybe it is not a good time to decide whether or not the name should be changed, but it may be a good time to talk about whether or not is should be changed. For some there will never be a good time to talk about a name change.

15 Ken August 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Mark, little late, but just came across your post on SBC name change. Excellent question. I normally stay in the shadows on controversy but it saddens me to see such emphasis by SBC leaders in trying to appease “outsiders” and make relevant to an ever-changing culture the proud body that has led the way for many years in evangelism and missions, one I have loved since my teens. Is this the real major problem of our day–a PR problem? I would suggest our time would better be served in re-discovering Biblical ways we can lift our Saviour as He suggested in order that He draw His lost sheep unto Himself as we face these end-times. But if our elected leaders insist with the distraction in the future with this change, we might as well go ahead and change Jesus’ name itself, since it is so offensive to today’s modern, God-less, secular, Bible-illiterate world. In addition, let’s rip out Matthew 5 and no longer refer to the Bible as “required” but “suggested” reading. This ought to really get them to beat a path to our doors. No, I think He gave us the formula in both Old and New Testament in drawing men with the type of the Serpent and the fulfillment in the Cross at Calvary. He sought to appease no one but to forgive everyone! I can almost hear Him saying: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”


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